You may have heard the term, “leaves of three, let it be.” When it comes to Pacific poison-oak and western poison-ivy, those are good words to live and hike by. To help you learn to identify and avoid these rash-causing plants, and what to do if you come in contact with them, we’ve put together a quick Coastal guide.
What Does the Plant do to People (and pets)
The oil in poison-oak and poison-ivy can often cause an allergic reaction, including a severe rash. The oil can be transferred by touching the plant, touching objects that have touched it (including your boots and pants, gloves, as well as pets), and inhaling smoke from a burning plant.
How to Remove the Oil
Immediately wash your skin and any clothing or items that come in contact with the plant’s oil. Use soap and water (on your skin and pets) or rubbing alcohol (on items and clothing). Don’t forget to clean beneath your fingernails if you accidentally itched the infected area.
How to Spot Poison-oak and Poison-ivy
You’ll find poison-oak on the west side of the Cascades in both Oregon and Washington. Poison-ivy grows on the east side of both states. According to the experts at Oregon State University Extension Service, the plants are nearly identical in appearance. They grow in fencerows, evergreen forests, woodland savannahs, hill pastures, clear-cut forests, stream banks, wetlands, and rocky canyons.
Both plants can grow as shrubs that range from 3 to 10 feet high, as ground vines, or up and around tall trees.
To quickly identify either plant, look at the leaves. While they range in color from shiny green with hints of red, to dull and shiny green and red (depending on the time of year, with red leaves appearing more often in the fall and winter), it’s how they grow that is the key.
Poison-oak and -ivy leaves alternate on the stem with each leaf made up of three leaflets. The leaflets are about 1 to 6 inches long and look like oak or ivy leaves. The middle leaflet is longer than the two on its left and right. The leaflets on the left and right do not have their own stem. Keep in mind, that you may also spot berries along with the leaves throughout the year.
One of the few different characteristics between the two species is that poison-ivy leaflets are sharply pointed while poison-oak leaflets are more rounded and irregular in shape.
Download the free OSU publication Pacific Poison-oak and Western Poison-ivy for more information and photos.
Tips to Help Avoid Exposure
When you’re working around poison-oak or poison-ivy, or if you’re hiking in an area where the plant is often found, be sure to wear protective clothing. This includes long pants, solid leather boots, long-sleeve shirt, and gloves. After hiking through an area where plants have been identified, carefully group your clothing together at the end of the day to avoid spreading the oil to other items.
Get Your Workwear and Hiking Gear at Coastal
We carry workwear and hiking clothing designed to protect you from Mother Nature and keep you comfortable. While you’re there, pick up extra pairs of socks and try on a pair or two of hiking boots for your next big adventure.